The Mojave Road or Mojave Trail is a historic route and present day dirt road across what is now the Mojave National Preserve in the Mojave Desert in the United States. This rough road stretches 140 miles (230 km) from the site of the old Fort Mohave (on the west bank of the Colorado River, roughly 10 miles southwest of Bullhead City, Arizona) to the site of the old Camp Cady (on the west bank of the Mojave River, roughly 12 miles northeast of Newberry Springs, California). A four-wheel drive vehicle is required for all but a few short stretches of this road, which is unmaintained. Under optimal conditions, its full length can be travelled in 2 to 3 days.
A traditional thoroughfare of desert-dwelling Native Americans, the road much later served Spanish missionaries, explorers, and foreign colonizers and settlers from the 18th to 19th centuries, and ran between watering holes across the Mojave Desert between the Colorado River and Mojave River then following it to the Cajon Pass, the gap between the San Bernardino Mountains and San Gabriel Mountains, into Southern California. The watering holes recur at intervals of about 60 to 70 miles.
Francisco Garcés, the Spanish Franciscan missionary, traveled the trail with the expedition of Juan Bautista de Anza in 1776. José María de Zalvidea, the zealous Franciscan administrator of Mission San Gabriel also crossed the trail in 1806, reportedly converting five indigenous Mojaves near present-day Hesperia. In 1826, Jedediah Smith became the first American to travel the Mojave Road. From 1829-30, Mexican traders from New Mexico established the Old Spanish Trail trade route to California that intercepted the Mojave's trail at a point just east of Yermo. This place was called "Forks of the Road" where the Old Spanish Trail divided from what came to be the Mojave Road to the Colorado River.
The land passed into American hands in 1848 and in early 1858 the Mojave Road was connected to the newly pioneered Beale's Wagon Road across northern New Mexico Territory from Fort Defiance to Beale's Crossing on the Colorado River where it linked up with the Mojave Road. Wagon trains of settlers coming west on the Santa Fe Trail, soon followed Beale's Wagon Road and the Mojave Road into Southern California. Beale's road was shorter than the route via the more southern Southern Emigrant Trail and it was cooler in summer and snow free in winter, had better forage and was better watered. Soon hostiities began between the Mohave's and the settlers, triggering the Mohave War.
From the time of the Mohave War the trail came under the purview of the U.S. government. Army posts were established at Fort Mojave, at Beale's Crossing in 1859 and at Camp Cady, 10.9 miles east of Forks in the Road, in 1860. Later in the 1860's, smaller outposts were established east of Camp Cady along the trail and regular patrols instituted. The army protected the settlers and travelers from the attacks of the resident Paiute, Mojave and Chemehuevi Native Americans. This also opened the way for large mining development in the Mojave Desert region of San Bernardino County and agricultural development in the Victor Valley area.
The route today
The eastern end of the Mojave Road begins at the edge of the Colorado River north of Needles and the western terminus lies beyond the Rasor Off-Highway Vehicle Area and the Afton Canyon Natural Area near the Manix Wash.
The following list of markers follows east to west travel.
- The Colorado River – Where the trail begins. (mile 0)
- Piute Creek – Natural spring with trees and plants growing all year round. (mile 23)
- Fort Piute – Next to the spring, this fort was built in 1867 by the US infantry. (mile 23)
- Lanfair Valley – Cattle ranches have been here since 1880. (mile 34)
- Indian Hill, Indian Well – North of the Mojave Road at mile 40, there is an old well of debatable origin. (mile 40)
- Joshua Tree Forest – The road gets very narrow in this thick forest in Lanfair Valley. (mile 47)
- Rock Spring – The biggest watering hole along the Mojave Road. The stream flows down large boulders. There is an old cabin here. (mile 49)
- Government Holes – Another water supply near Rock Spring, with an old concrete trough. (mile 52)
- Cedar Canyon – The highest point of the trip, crossing the Mid Hills you will reach 5,000 ft (1,500 m) elevation. (mile 56)
- Kelso-Cima Road – In the middle of the trip, this is the last paved road you will see for a long time (mile 62)
- Marl Springs – Another spring with a primitive concrete trough. (mile 70)
- Mojave Road Mail Box – Sign your name at this solitary flagpole and continue on. (mile 74)
- Willow Wash – Heavy sand alongside the Cinder Cones lava flow, parallels Kelbaker Rd. (mile 77)
- Kelbaker Road – The paved road between Baker and Kelso Junction.
- Soda Lake – A large dry lake; proceed with caution. You may have to drive around in the winter. (mile 97)
- Soda Springs (Zzyzx) – Small private building on the edge of Soda Lake.
- Travelers Monument – Also known as Government Monument, travelers carry a rock across the dry lake and add it to the pile. (mile 100)
- Rasor OHV Area – Open use area. (mile 103)
- Sand Dunes – There are a few soft sand dunes along here that you can play on. (mile 106)
- Afton Canyon – Deep canyon with steep walls, riparian habitat restoration, and plenty of scenery. (mile 116)
- Mojave River crossing – The only water crossing on this trail. (mile 121)
- Manix Wash – The exit point of the Mojave Road. (mile 133)
- Category: Mountain ranges of the Mojave Desert
- Category: Protected areas of the Mojave Desert
- Desert Region of California
- Casebier, DG (2010). "General Guidelines". Mojave Road Guide: an Adventure Through Time (4th ed.). Essex, California: Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association. pp. 39–38. ISBN 978-0-914224-37-2.
- Wilcox, L. "The Mojave Road". DesertUSA. Retrieved 2013-09-06.
- Robinson, WW (1962). The Story of San Bernardino County. San Bernardino: Title Insurance and Trust Company. p. 78.
- "Afton Canyon Natural Area". U.S. Dept of Interior, Bureau of Land Management. Retrieved 2010-06-20.
- Mojave National Preserve, Mojave Road
- BLM: Mojave Recreation website
- Mojave Road at dirtopia.com
- Topographical Sketch showing the Outward and Inward Route of a Party, while examining as to the practicability of a Diversion of the Colorado River for Purposes of Irrigation, Lithograph by Eric Bergland, 1875. From, Wheeler, G.M., Topographical Atlas Projected To Illustrate United States Geographical Surveys West Of The 100th Meridian Of Longitude Prosecuted In Accordance With Acts Of Congress Under The Authority Of The Honorable The Secretary Of War, And The Direction Of Brig. Genl. A.A. Humphreys, Chief Of Engineers, U.S. Army. Embracing Results Of the Different Expeditions Under The Command Of 1st Lieut. Geo. M. Wheeler, Corps Of Engineers. Julius Bien, lith., G. Thompson, Washington, 1876 from davidrumsey.com accessed December 3, 2014.] Shows the Colorado River above Ehrenburg, Arizona to Stones Ferry at the mouth of the Virgin River; in Southern California, parts of Nevada, and Arizona. Includes the roads and railroads of the time, including the detailed routes of the Bradshaw Trail and the Mojave Road and the Old Spanish Trail/Salt Lake Road from Los Angeles to Forks of the Road. From a Wheeler Annual Report. Gift to the David Rumsey collection by Mark Sappington.